For just about any other North Dakota high school gymnastics program, winning six of seven meets would be a tremendous start to any season. But when it comes to the three-time defending state champions, it's less about the end result and more about their collective performance
With less than a month remaining in the 2018-19 campaign, the Dickinson High gymnastics team has stood atop the podium at the end of six meets this year, but not every team victory is created equally as the Midgets have struggled to find consistency.
As the postseason closes in with sights on another state championship, Dickinson may have found the breakthrough that it was looking for.
Against a field of South Dakota schools on Saturday, Jan. 19, the Midgets dominated the competition at the 2019 Gym-O-Rama in Rapid City, S.D. Compiling a season-high team score of 149.200, Dickinson had a 14-point advantage over runner-up Pierre (S.D.).
"It was an example of what we could do," Dickinson head coach Kent Van Ells said. "Since the first couple meets that were home, we really hadn't had a real good meet. The home meets were pretty good, but it was a little concerning that if we went away to a meet, we might not perform as well as we could. So I think that was the main thing: we were able to go there, hit almost every routine, and score very well. I went back and looked, that's the highest we've scored in Rapid City, and we've had some pretty good teams go down there."
In the practices leading up the meet, Van Ells remarked that his gymnasts' efforts largely were on par with other practices throughout the season, and attributed his kids' success in Rapid City to potentially feeling a lack of pressure since there weren't facing any teams that they'll meet down the line. He also noted that the team faced those same conditions on Jan. 5, when it finished second at the Watertown-Mayer Invitational in Watertown, Minn.
However, junior Ayanna Fossum believes the Midgets entered their previous meet fully engaged for the task at hand."
"I just feel like our meets have been a little bit rough. Maybe we weren't as focused, so I think the week before we went to Rapid City, we really focused and got our confidence back," Fossum said. "This what we've been working on this week, being confident and staying focused. ... We just enjoy this meet so much, it's our fun meet so I think we had more fun too. We like their equipment, so we just went there and had it on our mind that we love this meet, and I feel like that helped us out."
Spearheaded by an electric performance on the floor that produced a mark of 9.800, Fossum won the all-around with a season-high score of 37.925. Despite being a two-time state champion on the floor, Fossum has tinkered with her routine and has found positive returns.
"I guess my first pass was just not going like it was last year, it was a little rough in the beginning," Fossum said. "I'm doing another pass that's worth the same exact thing, but I just have more confidence with it and I know that I'm going to make it, so that kind of helps me at meets and takes away a little bit of stress on floor. I can just go out there and have fun instead worrying about that first pass."
After taking home first in the beam, senior Dacia Rambousek was second in the all-around. Fellow senior Meghan Ackerman was victorious in the uneven bars while junior Brinklyn Schumacher had the top mark in the vault.
While she won in a different event, Schumacher's biggest takeaway was from her effort on the bars, where a score of 9.300 landed her right behind Ackerman in second.
"It felt like a pretty nice routine, but at the end, I wasn't really sure about it because my dismount was crazy. It wasn't one of my best dismounts I've ever done," Schumacher said while laughing. "I was pretty surprised; it's one of my highest scores. I think it's my second-highest score I've gotten on bars."
On Jan. 26, Dickinson will host its first home meet since early December, but will be without talented eighth-grader Courtney Roller, who suffered a torn ACL during the Judy Ziegler Invitational on Jan. 11. Van Ells noted that other gymnasts are feeling general pain as the team looks to get through the grueling portion of the season.
"She was important to the team. She provided depth for us, a strong tumbler and she did all the events," Van Ells said of Roller. "Other than that one major thing, it's a matter of backing off on some things, change a few things if they're hurting a little bit. A lot of athletes in all sports have to deal with that sort of thing, and getting to that part of the season we're noticing that."